David Early: Washing the Wounds of Martyrdom

David Early
10:15am | 
David Early is a local artist whose work is seen by millions. His best known work is on display in every California Pizza Kitchen in the world. You’ve seen those hand painted pizza boxes? Every one was made by him. His corporate work is  just a part of his creative output, however. Recently, he’s been creating a series of large paintings that depict martyred Christian Saints and arresting portraits of people engaged in all aspects of modern life. 

His work has been shown in top galleries around the world and is currently being exhibited as a solo show titled “Beautiful” at the Jones Gallery located inside the EXPO Building in Bixby Knolls. This Saturday, March 12, from 6 – 9 p.m. he’s hosting a reception there. His work is also part of a group show that opens on Saturday at Sipology Village on the corner of Broadway and Linden Avenue. The Sipology show also features the paintings of Melissa Murphy and the pointed corporate rebranding of R.G. Powers. Both exhibitions are curated by Sumako of LVXEdge.com.

I asked him about “Beautiful.”

David: The Expo show consists of a collection of new pieces, as well as older work all representing the notion of beauty. My original idea for the “Beautiful” show started approximately one year ago when I began to illustrate, through my work, how and why we alter our appearance to become more beautiful: Having our teeth straightened and whitened to achieve that perfect, beautiful smile; picking out just the right tuxedo for one’s wedding to show off “good taste;” never forgetting to show a good face for what will later be shown to the masses on Facebook. These were my preliminary ideas and, of course, as with any body of work, the pieces individually began to take on more in-depth ideas based on the concept.

Sander: How does one assess beauty, either in one’s self or externally?

David: To assess beauty is very simple beauty, as with art, surrounds us in most every form, especially the human figure. Big or small, heavy or thin, there is beauty to be found just look inside. Externally, this is, as the adage goes, in the eye of the beholder. Is it true that we find subjects more beautiful once we get to know them and adore them? Or, do we live in a society so blind that we only turn our heads to the beautiful bodies, faces and hair?

Sander: There’s a real beauty in your paintings of Saints. How did you come to this subject, and what has been your approach?

David: “The Lives of Saints” was my bedtime reading for years. I think I studied every saint for every day. Fascinating. Each story was different, and whomever I felt the closest to was chosen.

The saints were always in consideration for this show since they were never intended to be painted exactly to Saintly specs. This is to say that if I were to illustrate each martyrdom for each saint to an exact reality, I feel the paintings would not take on that beautiful quality. 

To be stoned to death, or beheaded, is not necessarily a beautiful act, however their reasons for having wound up in these deathly positions is beautiful. To believe in something or someone with 100-percent heart and soul is a beautiful act, and a willingness to sacrifice your own life for this says it all.

Having lived in Paris, France for years, I would see paintings of Saints everywhere. When I moved back to the States, I wanted to give my American take on Saints. First, by removing their clothes, and then by installing them in showers. According to Jesus, water is the cleansing of the soul, and I wanted to illustrate this idea: Washing the wounds of martyrdom away, or preparing for the ultimate journey.

Sander: I have to confess that I struggled with some of the depicted violence in a few of the paintings. Was this something you found difficult to render, and did you find yourself reaching for anatomy books?

David: No anatomy books. I did study Drawing in Painting in College (emphasis on the human figure) but never once reached for that classic, “Grey’s Anatomy.” I used friends as models and, as far as the wounds go, I locked myself in my studio for three months and imagined it all. Beheading, racking, stoning, crushed by doors, breasts cut off, and so on. It was, to say the least, a bit torturous.

Sander: Do these paintings hold religious significance to you, personally?

David: No, they do not. Not at all. To me, it is about the power of belief, and love. I find religion a useful tool for society. We need it more than most think. I personally am open to organized religion, but I do not follow a particular one, necessarily.

Sander: What kinds of responses have you received from religious people who see these depictions?

David: They have not always been well received by the zealots out there, but once I explained my intention, they eased up on me. I wanted to humanize them by stripping down their holiness, and by not ever forgetting they were and are human. I have not seen a lot of saints without cloth covering them up.

Sander: In modern 21st century Western culture, it seems that beauty has become a commodity, something to be bought and sold, either as fashion, cosmetics, status symbols, and even medical procedures. This seems contrary to my understanding of beauty, which arises from an ‘is-ness’ of things. How does your work speak to that contradiction?

David: I would hope my approach to painting, that is to say my technique and my subject matter, would draw the viewer into this notion. Yes, it would have been interesting to point out failures in cosmetic surgery, but I felt I wanted to take it a bit farther than this by introducing inanimate objects trapped in their own beautiful world. I also wanted to combine the use of unnatural lights (purples, electric blues), and also black and white.

Sander: You included a nude self-portrait in the show. Was it difficult to render yourself honestly?

David: Honestly, no. I wasn’t trying to pick out my best features but, rather, make an interesting painting. I had just gotten back from Paris when I painted this piece. It is a tryptic and, on either side of the center self portrait, there are two other images of myself that are not easy to make out. I used Yves Klien’s approach and rolled my body across the canvas. Using blue oil paint from Home Depot, I made quite a performance piece happen in my living room. I will never do that again. I had to take a bath in mineral spirits to get that blue out my hair!

Sander: Let’s speak for a bit about the show at Sipology. Did you consider exhibiting some of your corporate work?

David: No. Corporate work is for exactly that, a corporation. Sipology will have a few of my album pieces (oil on vinyl lps), a conceptual piece based on the idea of love, and a silkscreen auto portrait.

Sander: How did you enter into creating corporate art?

David: Once I returned from Paris, I was without money or a job of any kind. I was in Paris for three years making a living from my portraits. I thought if I could make it there I could make it here doing the same thing, or something very similar. I also painted ceilings and did decorative painting abroad. I even had a chance to paint the inside of the Lourve. Magritte used to paint wallpaper before he hit the gallery/museum scene.

Anyway, once I returned I started to place ads as a decorative painter in an O.C. magazine. I was picked up by a corporate designer, and the rest is history.

Sander: Most people reading this have probably seen your work. Where might they find it?

David: Every California Pizza Kitchen on the planet. Including in Dubai, Guam and China. I have painted over 2,000 pieces for CPK.

I’ve also done menu covers for El Torito and El Torito Grill restaurants (70 locations), and paintings for Marie Callendars, Norms and Tortilla Joes. I’ve also worked for Naples Restaurants, Las Brisas (Laguna Beach), Disneyland, and thee list goes on. All original paintings no reproductions.

My favorite part of working with corporations is the challenge involved with collaborating with designers, CEOs, architects and city planners. One example took place in 2007. Real Mex Corporation opened a new high-, high-end Mexican restaurant in New York City next to the Empire State Building. We all gathered and started, first to come up with a name for the restaurant, and then the design. We finally agreed on a 100-piece wall mural 60 feet long with gold leaf and a huge agave field. The idea was to make people thirsty, and it worked. The gold leaf was like the baking sun. It was a fun project that lasted nine months. Unfortunately, the artwork had to match the carpet, upholstery, etc. All part of the design game, I suppose. The restaurant is doing very well, by the way. The second one like this is in Beverly Hills.

The EXPO building is located at 4321 Atlantic Ave. and, in addition to David’s show at the Jones Gallery, the EXPO Gallery will also be open and will present work in the main space by painter Michael Pucac. Music, vendors and refreshments will also be available.

Sipology Village is located at 448 E Broadway. The reception starts at 7:30 p.m. and will feature live music by SHAC Attack (Scott Heustis on guitar and Allan Cook on percussion), followed by DJ’s Soulo and Kalamari.

More information about David Early can be found at DavidEarlyStudio.com, and at DavidEarlyFineArt.com.

Information about all of Sumako’s many curatorial efforts can be found at LVXEdge.com.

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